Golf: Fans LIV-ing it up in Bangkok as series' first Asian stop tees off

Dustin Johnson watches his tee shot during the first round of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, on Oct 7, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Trying to locate Bangkok's Stonehill golf course on the Grab app is a sure sign of just how spanking new the club is - Stonehenge comes up as a trip suggestion instead.

Stonehenge, it seems, is not a tourist attraction in England, but the name of a bar in the district of Lat Phrao.

And the reference is apt for the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, as the breakaway series' first Asian stop teed off on Friday with local and international fans turning up in droves all ready to let their hair down and party.

From Thailand to Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam, they came to catch some of the tour's biggest stars, with over 300 fans gathered at the players' practice range over an hour before the shotgun start

A pet project of Thailand's fourth-richest man Sarath Ratanavadi and his son Saris, Stonehill is located in Pathum Thani, over an hour's drive from downtown Bangkok.

Nott Naganidhi, 53, was there early on Friday with his seven-year-old son Nathan, wife, mother and sister.

Nott, who is the general manager of a private golf club here, said: "I brought my son to see some of the best players. I saw them play in Portland when my son was there for a tournament and the crowds here (in Bangkok) are better.

"This is a world-class event for sure and we had to see it because it is here."

Over the course of the day, action-starved golf fans continued to come in through the gates, soaking in the music and party atmosphere as they tucked into beef and stewed pork noodles washed down with Singha beer at fan zones like the Birdie Shack. Organisers were unable to provide spectator numbers on Friday.

Vietnamese businessman Binh Huynh had flown in from Ho Chi Minh City with his 12-year-old son Bin. Noting the lack of top-level golf tournaments during the pandemic, Binh, 45, said: "I came here with about 20 of my friends because it is a big event. I have been to the British Open in Scotland and the atmosphere here is fantastic and the golf course looks good."

Bin, a 20-handicapper, added: "I like Dustin Johnson because he's a good player!"

British golf fans John Goddard and Stewart Beck, both in their 50s, were spotted on the course trying to locate team Majesticks' Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.

The duo travelled from Kuala Lumpur to see their compatriots in action and Goddard said: "I like the team concept as it's something different. Though I am a little bit bummed that the area behind the practice range is only for VIPs as the side view is not great."

But it was not all fun and golf, as a minute's silence was held before tee off as a tribute to the 37 people who were killed in a gun and knife attack in north-east Thailand on Thursday, while players wore black ribbons as a sign of respect.

Amid the searing 32 deg C heat, three golfers - Spain's Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, Richard Bland (England) and Branden Grace (South Africa) - were tied for the first-round lead after carding a seven-under 65.

Poulter was joint-fourth on 66 while fan favourites Phil Mickelson and Bryson Dechambeau were part of the seven-man group tied at 14th after scoring 69.

Lopez-Chacarra, 22, who joined LIV after turning professional in 2022, said: "I've been struggling the first four weeks, just turned pro and nervous and all these guys, how good they are, and just trying to learn every week… so I'm happy with my result, but still a long way to go."

Bland, 49, who won the British Masters in 2021, added: "I've felt like recently I've been sort of playing better than I've been scoring, which is sometimes sort of quite frustrating. You've got a world-class field. I've been around long enough, I know all it is right now is a good start."

As the first day of action wrapped up at Stonehill, the weather gods were just beginning to party as the forecasted thunderstorm caused drama at the media centre tent, with local and international press forced to evacuate quickly in pouring rain after warnings that the roof was unstable.

Thankfully, everyone got out safely and the roof remained intact. Emblazoned on signs throughout the 340-acre golf course is LIV's slogan "Golf but louder", and Bangkok has certainly delivered on that promise.

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